Once apon a time in Mexico...
Trip Start Jul 15, 2004
27Trip End Jul 15, 2005
Well, I made it to Mexico about a week and a half ago, and it has been pretty different from South America, but then also lots of similarities. My first stop was Mexico City, but first I had to see if I survived leaving Caracas!
I will admit, Caracas as a city made me nervous, and I had met so many people who had been mugged, and so many others who knew people who had been mugged (violently and by taxi drviers) that I was worried about being there on my own. I would say it didnīt have the best vibe, but the hotel was in a fairly average area....lots of crack heads on the street. Anyway, I booked my taxi for the airport for 4:30 in the morning to get me to the airport in time. I was waiting in the reception and my taxi arrived, the security guard at the hotel, unbolted the hotel door, and walked me out, with a baton in one hand and his hand on his gun in the other. I donīt know that it was exactly comforting...they also checked the street before even opening the door, and the made the taxi driver sign for me! So, it was a nervous ride, but the taxi guy was nice, and got me to the airport so luckily no dramas.
The airport was a different story...I think because Mexico is so close to the US, there is alot of pressure for Mexicana to adopt strict security measures. This meant having all of your bags search throroughly prior to them being checked in. You then get the normal security screening, with the addition of another hand luggage search, and a body pat down. Then before you go into the gate area, you have your bags searched again, and finally as you are stepping on board the plane, you get one more body pat down! One day I am sure it is going to be mandatory to strip before getting on the plane, and possibly a full body xray!
Anyway, it was luckily an uneventful flight to Mexico City..no movie but the food was good. Finally you approach Mexico City and it is a sight you canīt believe. First of all, it is the biggest city you are likely to see...can you believe it, 22 million people in this one place. It is massive, and has a massive air pollution problem to go with it...looking at it takes your breath away, walking around the city tends to do the same thing! Arriving was easy, and I got to my hostel without drama...it was a pretty budget place, but I met a nice girl from the UK, and we ended up going the next day to Teotihucan, or the Aztec City which is about an hour from the city.
Mexico City does get a bad rap about safety, but I have to say I found the place friendly and it had a good atmosphere. The hostel was in a really good suburb, that felt safe to walk around. Toni and I ended up using local transport to go to Teotihucan, whihc meant catching the Metro...a great system that was efficient and cost about 25 cents to travel on. It took us to the bus station where we got a local bus out to the site. Teotihucan isa place I have wanted to visit for many many years, and I wasnīt disappointed. It is immense in size and scale, with two large pyramids...Temple of the Sun and Temple of the Moon, as well as many other buildings, and large road way. This city was large and still being used when the Spanish arrived in the 1500īs. When you look at it, you are amazed at the number of people it must have taken to create such buildings and structures. The museum was really interesting also, and it was nice to take your time to look around. When we were on top of the Sun Temple, there were heaps of Mexican high school kids, who took a shine to Toni and Me and decided to ask for us to sign their school books and stuff, plus a couple of them asked if they could interview us on video, which was strange...but at least I could answer the questions they asked in Spanish (I have been improving somewhat lately!). It was quite funny, they followed us around for ages and then finally we had some photos taken with them. I swear they thought Toni was someone famous...we couldnīt work out who though.
I only had one day in the city, and probably wouldnīt have minded another one or two to be able to look at some museums, but I donīt think it will be my last visit. The next day I flew to Cancun, which was a short flight, and luckily I got to the airport early, and they moved me onto an earlier flight. Cancun is pretty much the play ground for the United States. Think Las Vegas by the Caribbean and you get an idea. Immense resort complexes, lots of tacky restaurants and theme diners. Not my sort of place at all...I didnīt stay there, instead went straight to Puerto Juarez and jumped on the boat to Isla Mujeres, which is only 35 minutes from Cancun. Very different places, although Isla Mujeres was more touristic than I had expected, so I guess I was a little disappointed. My hostel was great though, and I had some good meals. Words almost cannot describe the colour of the water around here...it truly is turquoise moving to bright blue...simply stunning, with fine white sand beaches. I had hoped to go snorkelling, but then the weather turned, and was rainy and windy and not at all good for snorkelling. Plus the reef on the island has been turned into what I can only describe as an American Theme Park, where you have to pay to go in and then pay extra to snorkel, and it was expensive so I didnīt do it. The whole park thing was just really tacky. I did hire a bicycle though and spend the day riding around, until it decided to pour down and I got drenched, which the guy I rented the bike from found hilarious.
On Saturday I went back to Cancun to join my new tour. I met my roommate later in the afternoon...a strange French Canadian girl who is pretty young, but kinda sweet. We met some people on another tour and went out with their tour leader, a great lady called Nancy who was lots of fun. Four margaritas later we were heading back to our hotel when we bumped into our new tour leader Brent, who I ended up staying and having another drink with. There is nothing like making a good impression when you have had a bit to drink. Luckily, he had too and he is a nice guy and we get along really well which is cool. he is from the US and is 30 and has been living and travelling South and Central America for several years.
The next day I met the rest of the tour, a real mixed bag, but everyone is nice. We have two ladies, a mother and daughter from the US (50 and 70īs I guess), there are five Aussieīs, three of us single girls and another mother and daughter from Melbourne (40īs and 26 this time), two Canadians, one Kiwi and a guy from Austria. We met at breakfast and straightaway we left Cancun, yay! and got our first bus to the Mayan site of Chichen Itza.
Chichen Itza was amazing, the first example of Mayan civilisation I have seen , and it was impressive. The culture is also fascinating, the use of astronomy and mathematics really is amazing, and you realise that these people, so called īsavagesīas they were dubbed knew so much about how the earth worked. They were completely in tune with the seasons and the solstices, and built their temples to take advantage of this knowledge.
There was a ball court at Chichen Itza, as this was an important sport played in order to determine a sacrifice for a major ritual. I saw the ball court and instantly thought of Quiddich from Harry Potter, really similar! The accoustics of the place were incredible and there were some amazing relief sculptures depicting the ball game. The captain of the winning team was sacrificed once the first goal was scored, as that determined the end of the game. He was sacrificed, which was a great honour, as he was chosen to communicate with the gods on behalf of the people...an ambassador basically. Our guide was very knowledgeable and very funny.
We continued on in the afternoon to a town called Merida, and we had dinner at a great place called Panchos, and yes, the waiters were all dressed up in the bandito gear. The food was awesome, and we again had a few margaritas. There was dancing in the street and we watched people dance salsa, before an early night.
The next day a few of us went to see some Cenotes, or limestone sink holes. We didnīt really know what to expect, and as ususal, that lack of expectation led to a wonderful day. We caught a collectivo to a town called La Hacienda, which was about 1 1/2 hours from Merida. When we got off there we had to catch a ītrukī which was a small wooden cart on a small gauge railway line, pulled along by a small pony. We rented a couple and they took us into the countryside to visit the sink holes. We went to the last one along the track first to work our way back. From above, you cannot see anything, we had to climb down a ladder about 30 meters underground into a cave. Once in the cave, there was a large freshwater lake, the colour of turquoise, the water so fresh and clear, and about 35 metres deep. We all jumped in and swam for about 40 meters. It was dark, but a couple of natural holes above let enough light in to see the colour. There were even some fish swimming around. The water was really cool, very refreshing as it was pretty warm outside. The next two were also the same thing, and also spectacular, as I said, unexpected. The ītruksīwere a bit of an adventure in themselves, and I am glad I did it.
We had a full day travel from Merida, to the famous Mayan site of Palenque. We stayed overnight in the town, in a hotel on the edge of the jungle and we could see bats and hear howler monkeys. A couple of us went for a swim in the dark in the hotel pool, which was freezing! We got up early in the morning to visit Palenque. I was impressed with Chichen Itza but Palenque really blew me away. The site is very different from Chichen Itza, set in the jungle with only a small amount of the city uncovered from the thick jungle around it. The history was so interesting, and the main palace provided an insight into not just the ritual side of the society but the lives of the king and other important people. There is a large pyramid again, this one was found to have a tomb in it, and hieroglyphics which have mostly been interpreted and so quite a lot is known. The other thing that blows you away is imagining the building you see not just as plain limestone as they are now, but back when the city was used, nearly 2000 years ago, fully plastered and painted in reds and blues, green and yellow. The affect must have been incredible. Again, we had a terrific guide, who had worked at the site for many years. The think we all couldnīt believe though was the number or tourists there climbing on the walls of the ruins, even when our guide requested them to stop. As a result of so much of this going on, much of the site is going to be closed to tourists next year to try and save some of it.
We spent the morning at Palenque, and luckily had good weather, warm, sunny but not too humid, apparently they get about 30 days a year that good. I have to tell you this, but I bought myself a cowboy hat, just like the ones the guys down here wear...a straw one, really great. We drove another couple of hours to a place called Agua Azul, again, an unexpected surprise. How to describe it....large limestone cascades, with big pools in between, with water that really was Azul...blue, turquoise once again. The place was big, and we went swimming in the pools that formed...really lovely, a nice way to cool down. After that, we had a long and windy drive (yep, I got car sick!) to San Cristobal where i am right now. This is in the Chiapas region of Mexico, which was taken over by Zapatista rebels several years again, and is a real stronghold for Mayan culture...the Mayans didnīt die out, the nobility may have, but the peasants retained their culture and there majority of the population here is Mayan, still speaking the language and in some cases not speaking Spanish at all. San Cristobal is a very lovely colonial town, over 2000 meters above sea level and quite cold.
Today we went for a tour to two Mayan villages on the outskirts of San Cristobal, which was a very interesting trip. In the first town, Chazmulo (I think this is the spelling!) you are not allowed to take photographs of people, there is still a lot of fear and dislike of cameras. We went to a church there which was set up as a Catholic Church, St John the Baptist, but which is now not recognised by the Church....when you walk in, you see why. Although there are saints along the walls, the ceremonies and rituals are not Christian, they are Mayan. There is music, pine needles all over the floor...it is more like a cave than church. Lots of incense burning, the men drinking a local alcohol to communicate with spirits and chicken sacrifices. It was truly interesting and something I have never seen before. It is amazing how strongly these people are holding onto their traditions and cultures.
From there we went to another Mayan village, and here we went to a house and got to see weaving and cooking. We also had a chance to dress in a traditional Mayan dress...and I ended up being dressed in the wedding dress, which also has Aztec influnces...it was heavy! I got a photo, so I will post it when I can and you can have a good laugh! We also tried the local alcohol that is used in the church and tortillas, which we also learnt to make...I was good fun, and they tasted great. Apparently, a good tortilla is a ticket to marriage! I already had the dress....
So, this afternoon has been spent in town and doing some shopping of amazing handicrafts and some silver jewellery! The stuff here is embroidered and lovely, as well as some nice woven skirts and bags. Apparently it just gets better in Guatemala, and we are crossing there tomorrow, so I can see some major shopping coming along!
Ok, so that was this weeks update, once again so much happening and so many new things to see. I think this is why I am not tired of travelling, because everyday is just something incredible to see and do. A lucky life indeed.
Hope everyone is well, I will write soon!